Democrats insist they have yet to begin formally drafting articles of impeachment, saying publicly they want to finish the investigation before deciding whether to move forward.
But a debate is already raging within the caucus about what articles they should draft and which of Trump’s alleged misdeeds should be included.
Most Democrats expect the committee will draft an article on “abuse of power” by Trump, the most politically potent allegation that has emerged from the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Trump’s pressure campaign toward Ukraine. Another is expected to be for “obstruction of Congress,” a charge intended to detail efforts by Trump to stonewall the Ukraine investigations, and which may become a vehicle to accuse him of attempting to block several other congressional probes.
Some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have argued in favor of including additional charges, including on everything from special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on obstruction of justice to claims that Trump has used his office for self-enrichment.
Other Democrats have pushed back, saying the Ukraine scandal is the only one that has been able to move public opinion in favor of impeaching Trump and that it is a clear, easy-to-understand narrative that has galvanized the country.
The Judiciary Committee’s announcement left a slew of unanswered questions, including details about how many hearings the panel intends to hold and to what degree Trump’s lawyers will be able to participate, among other details.
In recent weeks, the panel’s top Republican Doug Collins has sought answers about whether Trump will be allowed to call his own witnesses. Collins has also asked for the Intelligence Committee to turn over its entire evidence file, noting that Clinton investigator Kenneth Starr turned over dozens of boxes of material to the Judiciary Committee ahead of the Clinton impeachment.
“As you said earlier this month, it is important to allow the minority and the President the chance to fully participate in this process, ask appropriate questions, and be afforded due process rights at the committee-stage of these proceedings,” Collins wrote in a letter to Nadler last week. “We hope these were not mere platitudes.”
Collins has also asked for a chance to question Schiff directly, comparing it to Democrats’ ability to question Starr in 1998. Democrats have noted that unlike Starr, Schiff’s questioning of witnesses included equal time for Republicans, who acted largely as defense lawyers for Trump, a level of real-time pushback that Starr’s team never faced.
Democrats have not ruled out other efforts to give Trump’s White House lawyers more options to participate in the hearings, and in fact the rules adopted by the House contemplate these possibilities. But their initial announcement for next week’s hearing didn’t spell them out.
Polls suggest about half of voters now favor impeachment — a sharp increase from the aftermath of the Mueller report. But public opinion also appears to have changed little after two weeks of public hearings on the Ukraine saga.
A potential compromise that has been floated is delving into non-Ukraine accusations in a separate Judiciary Committee report, while keeping the articles of impeachment singularly focused on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into his political rivals and withhold critical support until Zelensky did so.
It’s unclear if that would be enough to appease Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and others within the caucus who believe Trump should be forced to answer for other misconduct.